Revisiting the Task List

As it stood this morning, the task list was:

  • Finish reading Programmed Visions
  • Schedule a meeting with four people who have widely-varying schedules
  • Begin plans for the next Demystifying Digital Humanities session – identify main points
  • Write up a review of previous DMDH sessions for Fiona and Hilary
  • Email scheduling info for spring 18th/19th century reading group
  • Seriously? Update the reading group website. You haven’t even got the new name on there – that’s ridiculous.
  • Calculate overages for catering from prior DMDH sessions and request money to cover possible shortfall
  • Buy cat food

Let’s see how that went, shall we?

  • Finish Programmed Visions: not even close. I did, however, break down and buy an ebook version so that I could return it to the library and minimize the fines. As it was, I had only started it because I needed to get it back to the library. Now, without the time constrain, I’m back to George Sainsbury.
  • Schedule a meeting: Done! And reasonably painless.
  • Plan DMDH: Nope, but that will likely happen tomorrow when I meet with Paige Morgan, my collaborator.
  • DMDH write-up: No, but again, it’s scheduled for tomorrow, and there’s a hard deadline in place. I generally make those.
  • Reading group scheduling: Done, and the first round of questions fielded.
  • Update reading group website: No; waiting on confirmation of a few things.
  • DMDH budgeting: No, but this is rolled into tomorrow’s DMDH bonanza.
  • Buy cat food: Done! Once again, my tasty human flesh is safe.

But, of course, there were all the things that didn’t make the list that popped up anyway:

  • Feed colleague-who-is-out-of-town’s cat
  • Write and send off an abstract
  • Schedule several more meetings
  • Pass on information about the CTL poster session to our group’s lead
  • Pick up The Offspring from school
  • Feed Offspring
  • Finish reading The Hobbit to Offspring
  • Move and vacuum behind tatty, broken sofa in preparation for the arrival of shiny, new sofa

Not bad, I suppose, given that the to-do list is always a bit of a fiction. There’s a post I’d like to write about how we position ourselves as people with lives and responsibilities beyond academia, and whether DH allows us to value that other more (you can find my basic thoughts on that here), but I doubt that will happen before the end of Day of DH. Should it happen any time soon, I’ll all a link here.

DH-Inflected Exam Prep

I may have mentioned, possibly with a note of terror in my voice, that I’m preparing for my qualifying exams. This involves a large amount of reading for nearly a year, followed by 72 hours of writing like the wind.

You see the problem here, right?  As I come to the end of my year (Wilkie Collins’s Basil, it turns out, was the first one that month), I have very little recollection of what I read last June, and certainly couldn’t conjure up anything the least bit relevant to say about it while frantically churning out pages.

So … a huge amount of material and a need to quickly sort through it for relevant information?  Why, it sounds like a job for Digital-Humanities-Person! Or, at least, for free tools and DH methods to make my life a little easier.  Here are a few of the thing I’ve done, and some thoughts on whether I’d do it again:

Evernote: It syncs to all my devices, it keeps all my thoughts organized in discrete notes, and I can tag and color-code everything. I tell you, this on makes my little organization-loving heart go pit-a-pat. I give it all the stars for ease of use during the reading process, but I’m not so sure how it will work for recall when it comes to writing. I’m considering taking my final week before exams and putting everything I have in Evernote into a mind mapping program (TBD – any recommendations?), since I think the visual display may be of more use when I need to access all the notes in a hurry. I’m reserving final judgment on this one until I see how it performs under pressure.

Google Voice: If I need to get an idea pinned down, stat, and writing or typing aren’t options (my brain seems to work best during my commute), I call my home phone and leave myself a voicemail. A few years ago, we set up email notifications on our land line, since we kept missing important messages by forgetting to check voicemail. Now all voicemails come to my email inbox with both sound files and (often hilarious) transcriptions, and I don’t miss nearly as many dental appointments.

While this functions well for getting a thought preserved in a hurry – just set my cell on speaker and talk toward the passenger seat – the transcription leaves much to be desired. I knew it wouldn’t be great, but I though it might serve as a decent basis to cut and past into Evernote and then clean up where it failed. I defy any of you, however, to make sense of the message I left myself this morning:

Matt ignore this, Hello. The question of now. Well, Contemporary additional came in this knowledge.The question of what additional human needs to be a text. 1. One of the simplest and most broad goodexplanation, is to Mindy’s scholarship involving the computer And get this in itself is problematic.There’s a reason we switch truly blessed Mandy’s computing to digital, Humanities, a far more broughtin terms HI the If The addition of digital offers. More. Very connotation that allow us to think the arms,simply the humanities on the computer. And in fact, the cancellation of is recommending to make acall, sir encourages us to think about the connotation of digital in and have a different way. The idea ofhands on making talk to your parenthesis about packing and the the movement for that your car loomto punch card computing this and parenthesis. The Half. And that welcome back to us.

So, useful for recording, but I’m still transcribing by hand. This is actually a place where I might spend money as I progress to the diss, since I find it far easier to work through my ideas by talking them out, and something that can both capture and transcribe effectively would be worth the expense.

Kindle: It turns out, when you study things that are out of copyright, you can get most of them for free on Project Gutenberg, already nicely packaged as .mobi files. Grad students like free things, and the Kindle is just so handy! Toss it in my purse int he morning, and it doesn’t matter how many rabbit holes I go down during the day – any text I might need is either already there, or easy to email to myself and available in moments. Plus, I can highlight and make notes to my heart’s content without tedious retyping. What more could I want?

Well, better control of my data, of course – we all know the issues with Kindle ebooks. Beyond that, however, I have two major issues with this one: I can’t find a way to export my notes, so there may be a great deal of tedious retyping after all, which I truly don’t have time for. Even more damning, though – what do you suppose ebooks often don’t have?

Page numbers.

The problem of how to cite a single line from The Picture of Dorian Gray that I read in an ebook edition of the complete works of Oscar Wilde only occurred to me, I’m ashamed to say, a week ago. The MLA, thankfully, has anticipated me, so the problem is less one of logistics than it is an ethical quandary – even if the ebook itself was free, anyone wishing to follow up would need a Kindle in order to make sense of the locational numbering system it uses – not exactly the free access to information approach that I value in DH.

Perhaps, once my exams are over, I’ll do a follow-up on how all the tools and gadgets held up. And, while there’s still time left, any other brilliant ideas on exam prep out there?

Morning Routine and a Task List

“Routine” is a bit of an overstatement, since a) I’m not teaching this quarter, and therefore have no concept of date or time, and b) my qualifying exams are in five! weeks!, and whatever time I do have is spent frantically reading.  However, most mornings, some approximation of the following happens:

  • Get coffee. Nothing productive will happen until coffee.
  • Catch up* on email, blogs, news, Facebook, Twitter while drinking coffee. This can happen until 9:00, when I force myself to get to work in order to simulate a real day.
  • Send email that can’t wait until afternoon. Do not get caught up in sending all the email; this is a productivity land mine.
  • Check calendar: do you need to leave the house** for a scheduled event today?
  • Walk away from the computer (don’t worry, you’ll still have your tablet) and find a place to read.*** If you do so in the house, be prepared to also serve as a cat bed/scratching post/launching board at various points.

That’s not terribly exciting, is it?  And, this being Day of DH on the US west coast, I have entire continents of blog posts that I could catch up on, and how easy would it be to let 9:00 roll by and make excuses for why today is special?  So how about today’s task list, just to keep me honest?

  • Finish reading Programmed Visions
  • Schedule a meeting with four people who have widely-varying schedules
  • Begin plans for the next Demystifying Digital Humanities session – identify main points
  • Write up a review of previous DMDH sessions for Fiona and Hilary
  • Email scheduling info for spring 18th/19th century reading group
  • Seriously? Update the reading group website. You haven’t even got the new name on there – that’s ridiculous.
  • Calculate overages for catering from prior DMDH sessions and request money to cover possible shortfall****
  • Buy cat food
  • Blog for DMDH? Is that too meta?

* You will never catch up. You’ll be happier if you just admit this now.

** One should always leave the house, if only for more coffee. Staying in the house invites a lack of showering and dinners ordered from the pizza joint.

*** Watch for my post on my exam reading process later today – now with actual DH content!

**** If my mother taught me anything, it’s that PEOPLE MIGHT BE HUNGRY!!! We should put out more food.*****

***** I really like footnotes.

Midnight Snapshot

As the clock ticks over and Day of DH begins in Seattle, I am reading Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s Programmed Visions and huddled under my adorable farm animals quilt. I ought to go to bed, but I’m in a recall fight with someone over this book, and I want to finish it.

IMG_20130408_001336

Conclusion: “Doing DH” involves the odd experience of reading about software in a paper book (cartoon piggies probably optional).